Nobel Prize Winner Charles Kao Reminds Us to Keep That Weirdness Within

Internationally known as the “Godfather of Broadband”, “Father of Fiber Optics’’ or “Father of Fiber Optic Communications”, the Hong Kong, American and British electrical engineer and physicist, Sir Charles Kuen Kao, is the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for “groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication”.

Beyond being crowned as “the Father of Fiber Optic Communications”, the friendly-looking scientist has also been widely recognized as a gentleman-scholar who has dedicated his whole life to innovation and inspiring young scientists.

By starting up research institutes and interdisciplinary research initiatives and setting up contacts with leading institutions in Europe and North America, Kao has improved the quality of education and raised international reputation of the University.

Although Charles Kao is definitely a pioneer in the scientific field with a seamlessly perfect education and family background, we can’t help ourselves thinking that this man was just born to have it all.

However, before this man became so well known, he was probably known as some weirdo at school whom you never talked to, some unreasonable guy who got you really confused, an aloof scientist who spent his nights and days working on something that almost nobody could understand.

Rome was not built in a day. Before it became what it was, Rome was probably some rough patchy area that no one would ever notice in any history book. Well, it’s the same with Kao. His story shows us that we should all embrace our weirdness and keep working hard on what we believe in under whatever circumstances.


Charles Kao Was A Classic Nerd at School, and There’s Nothing Wrong with That:

As a noble prize winner and the founder of several university departments, the scientist revealed that he was always a typical introvert. When he was younger, he even found himself quite anti-social, feeling really awkward around people.

He said, “Maybe it was the home tutoring, or the late start to formal schooling, or an overly cautious and protective upbringing, but in any case, I never became a talkative person.” He added, “My ex-classmates, in later life, reported that they remember me as a quiet person who did not join in the rough and tumble of boy play.”

The now famous scientist still prefers enjoying solitude more than socializing with people, focusing on his well-being and academics more than the development of social circles. The introvert Charles Kao has confessed, “As an adult, I am not always comfortable in social gatherings with small talk. I must have inherited my father’s gentle nature.”


Father of Optics Is A Rebel in Science, and There’s Nothing Wrong with That:

Even as a classic nerd which he admitted to, Kao was not afraid to work on totally brand-new concepts, even if it meant that he had to abandon the plan of his academic supervisor. In 1963, as his supervisor Karbowiak, left to take the Chair in the School of Electrical Engineering at the University of New South Wales, Kao had become Head of the electro-optics research group at STL, taking over the optical communication program.

Kao succeeded his supervisor as Manager of Optical Communications Research and immediately dropped Karbowiak’s plan concerning the thin-film wave-guide and completely changed his research direction.

As controversial as his move might sound, this revolutionary change of the plan has led to a huge success. The study was first presented to the IEE in January 1966 and published in July. In field of science, Kao has first theorized and suggested using glass fibers for the implementation of  optical communication that has largely constructed the basis of today’s optical fiber communications.


Charles Kao Never Quit When Faced With Difficult Challenges:

Kao believes in the old Chinese saying, “failure is the mother of success.” He once told a reporter, “Ideas do not always come in a flash but by diligent trial-and-error experiments that take time and thought.”

In 1965, Kao and his partner found that optical fibers generally would exhibit light loss as high as 1,000 dB/km and even more. This has commenced the difficult race in searching for low-loss materials as well as suitable fibers. For that, the faith Charles Kao had in his project has never shaken. Working with his team, he had been testing different wavelengths in glasses and other materials in order to measure the attenuation of light.

While looking into the materials for years, Kao had discovered that the high purity of fused silica was the ideal material for optical communication. He also explored that the impurity of glass wass the major cause for the decay of light transmission. This unorthodox way of thinking is what allowed his mind to experiment and try things another way.

Through digging into his findings, piece by piece, Kao made a seemingly unrealistic hypothesis into a revolutionary invention that had triggered off a worldwide study and production of high-purity glass fibers. “If you really look at it, I was trying to sell a dream … There was very little I could put in concrete to tell these people it was really real,”.


Charles Kao Reminds Us to Keep That Weirdness Because That’s What Makes Us Stand Out:

Growing up as a weird kid at school into a science tycoon, Kao has introduced the world to a glass fiber that could be used for long-distance information transfer which revolutionized the whole communication industry. Not only for his contribution to the technological development, but also for his eternal “weirdness” to remain his individualistic persona and authenticity to his ideas.

Charles Kao was able to develop crucial techniques and configurations for glass fiber waveguides, and made major contributions to the development of a wide variety of fiber types and system devices. He contributed to more than 100 papers and owned 30 patents. This “abnormal” scientist has showed us that by following his interest and belief with disregard to social opinions, he was able to find the light of his fiber project. Well now, how about your story, weirdo?


Author Bio: Jessie Koo


 

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